“Get A Job”: Another Form of Victim Blaming


Richard Sahn

Not a day goes by in our local newspaper that there isn’t a letter to the editor blaming people who are facing economic hardship in America because they simply refuse to get a job. And any job will do, says a recent “letter to the editor.”

Any job?  Does “any job” mean that regardless of your income from that job you’ll be able to avoid poverty? Does “any job” mean that one can simply find ANY job in the first place? Does “any job” mean everyone who is struggling to stay afloat, literally, has the physical and emotional capacity to work at ANY job, even jobs that pay minimum wage, with no benefits, and which do not provide reasonable job security?

Yes, “get a job” has been the mantra for those who still care to rationalize the massive downsizing and outsourcing that has eliminated hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S. since Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. It stretches the imagination to believe there are “always” good jobs, even not so good jobs readily available. Schools, too, are downsizing, preferring on-line courses to real live teachers in the classroom.

The “get a job” advice has replaced the old “go back to Russia” advice directed at those who were critical of the Vietnam and the Cold War.  Neither admonition makes any sense, of course.  But these dicta have served to eliminate the cognitive dissonance of those who believe America has been and will always be the land of opportunity where virtually anybody can find a “decent job.”

Blaming the victim has usually been the easiest way to deal with social problems.  William Ryan in his book, “Blaming the Victim,” pointed this out years ago. Modern societies, with the exception, perhaps, of the Scandinavian countries—generally protect the established interests by getting those interests off the hook through victim blaming.  I suspect victim blaming is included in the official propaganda of almost every developed nation.

Undoubtedly, victim blaming is the consequence of the reification of nation-states.  Countries, like sports teams, are worshiped as if they were gods or God. Such reification is, of course, promoted by those who have not yet become “victims.”  Regarding one’s country or tribe as superior to all others, as God’s chosen land,  is what sociologist Robert Bellah called “secular religion.”

The poor and working classes are not immune to this kind of secular religious fervor. Depression and self-loathing is often the consequence.  More disturbingly, secular religious ideas such as victim blaming also entail the national desire to be militarily all powerful.

Impotence in one’s personal life is compensated by a vision of omnipotence for one’s reified tribal country.  No wonder the atomic scientists have recently set the doomsday clock ahead to two minutes closer to midnight. The Dr. Strangeloves of the world must feel triumphant.

Richard Sahn is a Contrary Perspective regular and a professor of sociology.

7 thoughts on ““Get A Job”: Another Form of Victim Blaming

  1. “Impotence in one’s personal life is compensated by a vision of omnipotence for one’s reified tribal country”.

    Beautifully expressed, and a very important truth. I always love to see something I have long felt, but struggled to put into words, reduced to a single compact sentence.

  2. Tom, you hit the nail right on the head. What you’re talking about is the seeds of fascism. Reification of anything is not really good in rhe long run.

  3. Reification of nation-states is nationalism, identification with one’s nation instead of one’s class. That is one of the functions of wars, as Benito Mussolini noted. Socialists are supposed to feel international solidarity with their own kind, but when WWI broke out, socialists rallied to the support of their individual nation-states and went to war against their socialist comrades.

  4. Prof. Sahn!! Shouldn’t that have read MILLIONS of jobs downsized/outsourced overseas since Reagan took office?!!? Some folks never recovered from this disaster and I have long felt that the government should be prohibited from reporting statistics claiming “new jobs created” until all the very long-term unemployed have been put back to work. BTW, “get a job” is the refrain of Bruce Hornsby’s song, “That’s Just The Way It Is,” which was quite popular on radio back in the day.

    P.J. Sullivan: Well, there are socialists and there are “socialists.” Anyone currently holding office in the “Western world,” including Bernie Sanders, is in the latter category. Your observation on World War I is entirely correct. This is why V.I. Lenin mercilessly tore those clowns to bits in his polemics and it led to the founding of the Third International. Which, as related recently here on TCP, was de-fanged once Stalin gained control of the Soviet apparatus. No need to belabor that point at this moment. Incidentally, once upon a time in America a genuine socialist, Eugene V. Debs, gained a large number of votes in a presidential campaign. But, uh, times have changed, eh?

  5. The “job creators”: in China, Vietnam, Myanmar, and any land where profits are better than in America. When H. Ross Perot spoke in a presidential debate about the results of NAFTA, that when passed Americans would hear an enormous “sucking sound” of jobs leaving the United States, he was absolutely on the money. Stop fast track, declassify TPP and TTIP.

    • Sigh. Ah yes, a warm wave of nostalgia sweeps over me. Mark my words: H. Ross Perot, dismissed as some kind of nutcase, was much, much more of a “straight shooter” with the electorate than any other pol running for, or succeeding in attaining, the presidency since those days. And I’m 100% serious in saying this.

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